ALMOST EVERY TIME a Nobel Prize for literature is announced, the cries divide between "Who?" and "Shame!" - "Who?" coming from the general public, "Shame!" from the particular.This year there are very few cries of either sort in response to the award to Isacc Bashevis Singer; and it is surprising how many people have heard of, and read, the work of the shy Polish immigrant who still writes his stories in Yiddish, from right to left, in college blue books. The credit for the prize is rightfully and naturally all Mr. Singer's. Academy of Letters for recognizing in Mr. Singer not only a great writer, but also the satisfaction of popular wish to hear a good story.
For all the complaints that automatically accrue to Nobel Prizes, the awards for literature, in fact, have not been half bad. To be sure, Tolstoy, Joyce and Proust were left in the cold, but Yeats, Shaw, Mann, O'Neill, Eliot, Faulkner and Hemingway have been honoured; and most of these writers, including the poets, had the genius for storytelling that the academy has prized in Mr. Singer. Even Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck, whose awards caused a healthy ruckus, were storytellers above all. It is an ancient art, storytelling; the more straightforward the better.
The award to mr. Singer, then, is also an award to simplicity and clarity, the achievement of which is no mean trick in a literary atmosphere currently dominated by linguistic criticism.The achievement of simplicity and clarity is no mean trick in life, either, which is what Mr. Singer has been saying in a hundred ways for 50 years. His first famous story, "Gimpel the Fool," is about a man who is a fool in name only mainly because he personifies simplicity and clarity. "When the time comes," Gimpel says of death, "I will go joyfully. Whatever may be there it will be real, without complication, without ridicule, without deception. God be praised: There even Gimpel cannot be deceived."
The praising of God is Mr. Singer's other major strength, and in a sense that, too, is being rewarded here. Not Judaism or religion per se, but rather the half-fearful belief in a supernatural world against which men contend. This, too is the old world of writing: the tales of little people who go about their funny or pathetic or tragic business in the sight of an Almighty who may not care. Mr. Singer said his prize doesn't prove much. But it proves that such a world is still around.